Where Does Jesus Fit? by Dr Andrew Malone
It’s a great delight to be invited to come and speak with you this morning. I’m a regular lurker around the parish, and often wandering in for the monthly car-boot sales or the winter used-book sales. I’m ever-conscious that each parish is part of God’s bigger picture, so it’s a great privilege for me to meet new congregations and to see what God is doing in different parts of his world-wide project!
It’s an even bigger delight for me to be invited to speak about the Holy Name of Jesus. I cannot imagine many other topics that are so valuable and so distinctive. I didn’t need by my arm twisted very hard at all to be here or to address the issue of Jesus and his name.
Jesus and our individual worlds
A very simple question opens up a wide range of discussion points for us:‘Where does Jesus fit in your world?’ I can imagine a whole range of answers (though please share with me afterwards what you would actually say).
‘Where does Jesus fit in your world?’ Well, for a start, this particular parish bears his name. I don’t have a very detailed Anglican heritage, but I don’t recall any other parish with such a name. I know a few ‘Holy Trinity’ churches, and I’ve heard one or two named after the Holy Spirit. Of course, there are a few that pick up Jesus’ key title and call themselves ‘Christ Church’. But Vermont South is the only Anglican parish I regularly hear of which is named directly after Jesus himself.
Where else might Jesus fit in your world? For any regular Christian, Jesus should be a part of everyday life (and not merely the branding of a building we attend once each week). We say our prayers in the name of Jesus – and that’s not just some formula we tack on at the end of our recitations. To pray in Jesus’ name is to ask God for the kinds of things that we know that Jesus would be happy to ask for.
It’s not as popular now, but many Christians have tried to keep Jesus a conscious part of everyday life. We might have a fish sticker on the back of our car. In the 1970s and 80s, there might have been a Greek title for Jesus included; more recently we’ve simply seen the English name ‘Jesus’ printed within the fish. And we’ve seen the era of the silicon bracelets and keyrings inscribed: WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?It’s not the only way to work out how to behave in any given situation,
but it’s a great and practical reminder to think about our Christian behaviour.
Jesus and the world of the Bible
Indeed, we then quickly realise that the very title ‘Christian’ is a form of the titleof Jesus that we should be comfortable to bear each day. (For most people, the word ‘Christ’ has become another one of Jesus’ actual names.) ‘Christian’ is no longer just a label that means ‘white, middle-class Australian’. During the 2016 census, it was the atheist movement that was keen to remind Australians that ‘Christian’ is a special term! One of the billboards right here in the shopping centre was one of those that was sponsored to encourage Australians with no faith to overtly mark ‘no religion’ on their census forms. It’s one of those surprising times when I find myself happily agreeing with atheists: don’t call yourself a Christian if you’re notinterested in Jesus Christ.
It’s my grand privilege to teach students every week from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Right now I’m in the middle of one of my favourite classes, where we get to spend five weeks working in some detail through the book of Acts. Just this past Wednesday we’ve reached the passage where the Jesus-followers are called ‘Christians’ for the very first time (Acts 11:26). Ironically, it seems it was almost an insult: ‘look at you Christians… you people who are so obsessed with Jesus Christ!’ Well, that’s an insult that I hope I’m willing to wear, and one that I hope you also will be ‘guilty’ of!
That’s all a great starting point, but I think we can take our appreciation of the name even furtherthan that. We might ask: ‘Where does Jesus fit in the world of the Bible?’ Because I teach in both Old Testament and New Testament, it gives us a chance to think further about just how important his name is.
Many Christians I know – and even some who arrive at a theological college to study the Bible – aren’t really sure what to do with the Old Testament. Sure, we all know that the Old Testament is there. We often know some of stories from it, at least those that we’ve been taught in Sunday School. We’re conscious of other favourite portions, like the psalms. But the rest of it really can seem like a very long-winded introduction to the main event in the story of Jesus. That’s how I grew up, and it really took some formal theological study before the answer started to sink in. I hope the recent Bible overview program –looking at God’s Big Picture– will have demystified much of the Old Testament for you.
The Old Testament makes up 77% of our Bibles, and Anglicans join other Christians in revering it as just as important as the New Testament. And we find that Jesus, and even his name, is an important part of this first three-quarters of the Bible as well as the concluding part (with which we’re usually more familiar).
God plans to rescue his wayward world. He chooses one nation (the Israelites) through whom he will work to bring all the nations of the earth to know and revere him. God wants his own name – Jehovah or Yahweh – to be recognised by all the nations of the earth!
We often talk about God ‘saving’ the world, and the prayer book regularly talks about the ‘salvation’ that God brings through Jesus. That idea is found right throughout the Bible, and not only in the New Testament. Several of God’s key leaders bear names that remind the world of this long-termplan. The name of the prominent Old Testament Israelite leader ‘Joshua’ means ‘Jehovah saves’. The name of the prominent Old Testament prophet ‘Elisha’ similarly means ‘God saves’. And the name ‘Jesus’ is just the Greek equivalent of Hebrew ‘Joshua’: both of them mean ‘Jehovah saves’. We’re even reminded of this meaning in the Christmas story: an angel appears to Joseph, and instructs him about naming Mary’s baby: ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will savehis people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:20).
Jesus and the wider world
After God’s detailed preparations in the Old Testament, and after the earthly life and ministry of Jesus once he’s been born, we do indeed find ourselves in the book of Acts. There God’s apostles announce this saving work of Jesus for the world. In one of their announcements – which we’ve read today from Acts 4:8–12 – we read the dramatic claim that ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no othername by which we must be saved’ (4:12). And this is a significant statement. It moves us past our opening questions. It’s not just a question of ‘Where does Jesus fit in yourworld?’ It’s not just a question of‘Where does Jesus fit in the world of the Bible?’ It actually drives us to ask: ‘Where does Jesus fit in theworld?’!
This is the claim that knowing the name and power of Jesus is the only way to be saved. It’s familiar to us from the common memory verse that we teach children: Jesus answered Thomas: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). And this is the claim that has made many people, like the atheists I mentioned earlier, antagonistic towards Christians. It is indeed an outrageous claim! There’s only one way to God! It’s not by being a nice person. It’s not by working through the right rituals (whether in a Christian church service or some other set of behaviours). It’s not by feeling ‘spiritual’ or any other raft of mystic activities. And it’s not by ticking ‘Christian’ on a census form. The only way to God is by being introduced to him by Jesus
The Bible talks in several different ways about how Jesus brings us to know God. We could spend weeks or months working through the different images. For now, we might use one of the images that come later in the letter to the Hebrews (which was read this morning). Just as American presidents pride themselves on bringing warring parties to the and Israeli leaders to shake hands together, so Jesus introduces us to God and restores our broken relationship. Hebrews paints a picture of Jesus urging us into God’s dignified throne room. Like a confident child striding into his father’s boardroom at work, Jesus speaks up and says, ‘Hey dad, meet my friend Andrew…’ (And God, of course, isn’t at all interruptedat work. This is part of his long-term plan, and he’s pleased to take me by the hand and to be introduced personally.) Jesus introduces each of us to God: ‘Dad, meet my friend David; meet my friend Daphne; meet my friends Jean and Warwick and Frank and Jane.’ (The image is spelled out throughout the letter to the Hebrews, but it’s most clearly summarised in Hebrews 4:14–16.)
As we still often say in the business world: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ And we get right with God not by whatwe know (or what we do) but only by whomwe know – Jesus.
Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s long-term plan
Indeed, we start to discover just how much of the Bible is about this long-term plan of God’s. God has always been keen to restore wayward people to himself, and it turns out that this is why the Old Testament is so long and detailed. You don’t have to look far around Vermont South on a Saturday morning to see a whole lot of learner drivers out and about: there are L-plates and driving instructors every couple of blocks. God takes the whole of the Old Testament to teach his people how to drive, before he gives them a licence to drive on their own. Or, whether it’s the Charlnet Drive building project just down the road or the Ramsey Gardens work across the highway, there’s lots of preparations that go into developers’ blueprints (and their VCAT appeals). So, too, God works slowly over time to prepare for his dramatic arrival in Jesus.
We glimpse this in the opening verses of Hebrews, read to us this morning. (These verses are a great example of how the Bible hangs together.) ‘In the pastGod spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but now in these last dayshe has spoken to us by his Son’ (Hebrews 1:1–2). God has long planned and prepared his world for the major turning point … and now you and I have the privilege of seeing that unfold in Jesus.
In case we miss the importance, here at the start of the letter to the Hebrews, our author then rattles off (in Hebrews 1:2–4) some of the important things about Jesus that he’ll unpack as his written sermon continues. Here in these opening verses we’re reminded that: (1) Jesus has been appointed heir of all things: he inherits what God rightly owns. (2) It was through Jesus that God made the entire universe in the first place. (3) Jesus the Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and (4) reflects God’s very being like a mirror: an exact representation. (5) Jesus is also responsible for sustaining all things simply by speaking. (6) As we celebrate in the communion service (this morning) we join in the Great Thanksgiving for the way Jesus has provided purification for sins. (7) He’s completed that work, and has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, ready to introduce we who approach God the Majesty through Jesus.
And, at the very end of the paragraph (1:4), there’s one final description that’s entirely apt for today’s celebrations. The readers of Hebrews seem to have put some stock in angels, and our author assures these readers that (8) Jesus is far superior to any angels, just as he has inherited a namesuperior to theirs. Indeed, Jesus has inherited God’s name, the name that God refuses to share with any one. Our all-powerful, supreme Majesty, God, does not share his fame or glory with any others who claim to be gods (e.g. Isaiah 42:8). Yet we find a demonstration of Jesus’ superiority – of Jesus’ divinity– by the fact that he is indeed worthy to be called God: to be called ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh’.
I don’t know if they made it to your place yesterday, but I met my first Jehovah’s Witnesses in the streets of Vermont South. They’ll say lots of polite things about Jesus, even lots of significant things about Jesus. But they’ll stop short of giving Jesus fullstanding as God, or allowing that we might call him by the name of God.
Whether you’re here in church every Sunday or somewhat less regularly, you don’t need to spend much time in Anglican circles to appreciate the unique role and name of Jesus. Whether it’s in the services that we hear from week to week, or in the prayers recorded for the Eucharist and other occasions, or in the 39 Articles – the definitive doctrine of Anglicans (recorded in the back of the prayer book) – we dare not miss the regular and repeated claim that Jesus is unique in every way! It’s a clear and definitive feature of Anglicans. It’s a clear and definitive feature of all true Christians.
I’ll readily admit that the letter we call Hebrews is my favourite part of the 66 books that make up the Bible. It’s a great letter for putting together the different parts of the Bible (and for explaining why God spends so long on the Old Testament). It’s a great pastoral letter that comforts me when life is difficult. It’s a great encouragement when I worry that God doesn’t always hear my prayers, because it paints that picture of God welcoming me into his bustling throne room and pausing indeed to hear my prayers because Jesus has ushered me in. And the letter as a whole paints as vivid and unique a picture as any other part of the Scriptures. (If I had to be marooned on a desert island with just one portion of the Bible, I’m pretty certain that I’d be voting for Hebrews!)
As I conclude this more formal part of this morning’s address, again I look forward to much more informal interaction after the service. I commend you to persist in your study of the Bible and in your adoration of Jesus – the unique and only way to God. I encourage you to continue investing in learning ever more about this special name after which the Vermont South parish is titled: the Holy Name of Jesus through which God seeks to transform and save his world!
Let me commend us to God in prayer:
Great Majesty in heaven,
Your instructions later in Hebrews beckon us– call us, command us– into your throne room. Because of Jesus’ once-ever sacrifice, we are welcomed into your presence, and invited to seek grace and mercy [esp. Hebrews 4:14–16].
Would you continue to commend, to our minds and our hearts, your work through Jesus and your words through Scripture. We offer before you the very prayer that you have taught us at the conclusion of Hebrews:
‘Now may the God of peace, who, through the blood of the eternal covenant, broughtbackfromthedeadourLordJesus,thatgreatShepherdofthesheep, may he equip us with everythinggood for doing his will, and may he work in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen’ [Hebrews 13:20–21].
Ed. Above sermon was preached by Dr Andrew Malone at Holy Name of Jesus on 5 August 2018. Dr Andrew Malone is a lecturer in Biblical Studies at Ridley College Melbourne.